Unless you are on holiday on another planet, you know that the World Cup is being played out in Brazil: 32 national football teams converged in Brazil, followed by billions of fans from all over the globe.
Football? Prisoners – Yes. Women – No
The World Cup is truly a world-uniting experience: Just to put things in proportion, nearly half of the planet’s population, 3.2 billion people, watched the last World Cup final. No matter what is the local time, work status, school status – people are watching it at home or in bars, restaurants and coffee shops – even prisoners in Guantanamo jail watch it.
Everyone is watching except for women in Iran. Why? Because people like Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami believes that “if women attend games (both in stadiums and screenings) there could be no guarantees that hijab or chastity would be properly observed or respected.”
World Cup games cannot be screened in cinemas, restaurants and coffee shops to audiences that include women. Some Iranian women have openly defied these laws by viewing the games at restaurants and coffee shops which have led to police crackdowns resulting in forcing the establishments to not screen the games.
Yes, it’s “only” a game and no one is physically hurt. But it is another symbol of repression by the regime in Tehran just as separate rest rooms and restaurants were for African Americans in the US and in any other country that practices or practiced racism. And in this case, it’s even more symbolic since Iran’s national team was actually playing in the world cup!
Iranian authorities have cracked down on fans, going so far as to arrest people who appear in a video intended to support the footballers. Why? Once again, the fear of seeing women hijab-free.
The Hijab as a weapon
The issue of Hijabs and women’s clothing is creating quite a stir in Tehran over the past few months: hardliners are exasperated by grass-roots movements such as “my stealthy freedom“, a facebook fan page showing pictures of hijab-free women and the “Happy in Tehran“, a lip-sync video of Pharrell’s hit including hijab-free women. The hijab is the main focal point of the discussion on women’s clothing but just last week, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli was summoned to parliament to answer questions about why more measures have not been taken to prevent women from wearing leggings in public.
The BBC reported that “There was a loud reaction from MPs as photos of what was dubbed “transgressive legwear” were shown on large screens during the parliamentary session”. It’s as if the Iranian parliament has nothing better to do than to discuss whether leggings are really pants or not.
In this context, it is easy to understand that the hijab is really a weapon used by the regime to repress women in Iran since the beginning of the Islamic revolution. So, why the fuss now? The answer can be found in President Rouhani’s efforts to question the essence of some religious and social laws including the hijab itself as is evident in his latest tweet in which he stated that “poverty is a greater threat to chastity than violating the hijab norms“. Hardliners in Tehran obviously don’t appreciate Rouhani’s open-mindedness and are fighting back. We can only hope that one day the hijab will become a symbol of achieved freedom by remaining in a drawer at home.